Ohio’s passenger rail system must be analyzed

Published 9:55 am Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I serve on the Finance and Appropriations Committee and recently the Democrat leadership introduced into the transportation bill, House Bill 2, a provision to develop an inner city passenger rail system that would connect Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus.

They were motivated by the possibility of applying for a portion of an $8 billion pot of federal money that Congress has specifically dedicated for states that create passenger rail systems. Democrats wanted to make sure that Ohio received some of the money.

House Bill 2 called for the adoption of the rail system without consideration of a study. Amtrak is currently conducting a study, but the results will not be available until August.

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The Democrat leadership in the House brought in an expert to testify before the committee who enthusiastically testified that a rail system would promote business along the route and remove automobiles from the highway, saving energy.

From testimony on the bill, we learned that the service will be subsidized perpetually through the state General Revenue Fund.

The Democrats could not tell us when conventional rail would be converted to high speed, and we do not know how much it will cost.

Others and I took the position that we would not vote for any project until we received better numbers from a study. We believe that making a decision just because something appears to be exciting is reckless.

The Democrats then amended the bill to say that the adoption of the rail project would not take place until the study was completed, but the project implementation decision would be transferred from the Legislature to the state Controlling Board. The Controlling Board is composed of an equal number of legislators from both parties, but a governor appointee controls the deciding vote.

The Ohio Constitution provides that appropriations must be made by law and the Legislature is the law making body of state government.

There is no doubt that a large project, such as passenger rail system, should be brought before the General Assembly for public hearings.

Even though the Democrat leadership agreed to wait until a study has been completed before making the decision, they removed the decision making process from the Legislature and lost Republican support for the bill.

The transportation bill only passed with one Republican vote.

The bill has now moved to the Republican-controlled Senate and discussions on this matter continue. I am hopeful that through further deliberation, the approval for such a large expenditure will be properly brought before the General Assembly.

Clyde Evans represents Ohio’s 87th District in the House of Representatives. He may be reached at (614) 466-1366 or by writing to: Representative Clyde Evans, at 77 S. High St., 13th Floor, Columbus, Ohio 43215.